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Shaxi Ancient Town is situated in the south-west of Jianchuan County of Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. It is 139 kilometers (3 hours' drive) away from Dali and 107 kilometers away from Lijiang (2 hours and 45 minutes' drive).
It is an important trading hub on the Yunnan-Tibet Tea Horse Road, which was included in the protection list of 101 endangered sites as early as 2001 by the World Monuments Fund (WMF). Pompeii in Italy and the Great Wall in China are also on the list.
Shaxi is an ancient town integrating business and Buddhist culture, where the old ancient stage, ancient temples, ancient shops, ancient alleyways, ancient houses, ancient village gates, ancient trees, ancient wells, ancient bridges and fairs all remain intact.
As there is no large-scale commercial development yet, the only surviving ancient bazaar, once a bustling caravan stopover station on the Tea Horse Road, remains the same as before.
In the same way as Lijiang Ancient City and Shuhe Ancient Town, Shaxi also has its Square Street, which is its center. Shaxi's Square Street is a plaza covered with red sand bricks, with two centuries-old Chinese scholar trees standing in the center.
This street is a fully functioning millennium-old ancient bazaar, with a collection of temples, an ancient stage, shops, a caravansary, a wide street surface covered with red sand stone slabs, centuries-old trees, ancient alleyways, and ancient village gates.
The west-facing ancient stage on its east side and the east-facing Xingjiao Temple on its west side echo with each other and divide Square Street equally into southern and northern halves.
The ancient alleyways extend from Square Street to the outside of Shaxi.
One alleyway leads to the southern village gate which joins salt wells that lie to the south and west of Shaxi. In this alleyway, there are several inns.
Another alleyway passes in front of the caravansary, leading to the eastern village gate. This is a gate to the Dali area, and the north one is to Tibet. Outside this gate, the Heihui River flows away.
The third alleyway is called Sideng Street, which is also the gateway to Shaxi. Vehicles running in and out of Shaxi are all parked at the entrance of this street, where there is a drugstore called Longevity Hall.
Down the street, there are several embroidered shoe shops and a bicycle repair shop. The No. 58 Courtyard, famous in LP, is also there. It is an inn which was opened by a Taiwanese person.
In the past, there was a fair on Sideng Street every three days. It was very bustling. Caravans from everywhere passed through the alleyways to be put up at an inn on the afternoon of the day before, one after another.
People performed on stage around the clock for two days. This performance was called a "two-day, two-night play" by the locals.
The meandering Heihui River runs through Shaxi from north to south in the east. There is a crescent-shaped ancient bridge, Yujin Bridge, across the river, which is set off by distant towering green mountains.
Yujin River was built in the Kangxi Period of the Qing Dynasty. After several centuries of collapse and destruction due to war, it was rebuilt in 1931. It has a height of 6 meters (12 meters clearance height), 35.4 meters length, 5 meters width, and fences made of stone slabs.
On one side, there is a stone-carved turtle head on the bridge vault looking at the upstream area of the Heihui River; on the other side, there is a turtle's tail connecting the downstream part of this river. At the ends of the fences, there are four carved giant salamanders.
This ancient bridge is the only way for Bai people living in Shaxi to go to work in the fields and to do business. Stone slabs on its body have become shiny with green light but are also potholed due to the press and tread of carriages, horses and people.
It is a witness and carrier of Shaxi's long history, greeting and sending off several generations of Shaxi ancestors.
If you stand on the bridge looking back at Shaxi Ancient Town, you can see that there is a landscape painting under those mountains.
The ancient stage is the soul of Shaxi. Everyone that comes to Shaxi for the first time will marvel at its unique architectural structure and exquisite craftsmanship. It is the most distinctive building on Square Street.
This stage was built in the Qing Dynasty. It is a three-story Kuixin pavilion with a stage. The front is the stage, and the back is the pavilion. It's a special structure with cornices and 14 flying eave corners.
It is incredible that there is such a gorgeous and delicate stage standing under the blue sky and white clouds in this out-of-the-way town.
The stage is situated due east of Square Street, directly facing Xingjiao Temple to the west. The distance between them is less than 100 meters.
How many viewers can this tiny place hold? A word from the older generation tells us what the position of human beings is. They say, "The play is sung for immortals in Xingjiao Temple".
By spending 10 RMB, you can ascend the ancient stage. Along the steep wooden stairs, you can see the exhibition of cultural relics unearthed in Jianchuan on the second story and see the Quixin loft on the third story.
In the Tang-Song period, the kingdoms of Nanzhao and Dali rose in the south-western regions, and became a buffer area between the Tang Dynasty and the Tubo Dynasty. They connected the two strong dynasties, and this area was one of the main places that the Tea Horse Road passed through which was used for economic and cultural exchanges.
As a town on this road, Shaxi played an active role. Perhaps God has a special liking for this town; after the Tang Dynasty, salt wells were dug in its vicinity. It was the nearest Tea Horse Road bazaar to those salt wells and consequently the salt trade began there.
Salt mining, like icing on the cake, added fuel to the fire for the development of Shaxi. As the nearest Tea Horse Road bazaar to the salt wells, Shaxi became the salt capital on this road as well as a distribution center of table salt for Tibet and north-west Yunnan.
Salt is one of the necessities of people's lives. It gradually became another important commodity after the tea and horse trade in Shaxi.
It is suggested that it is better to stay overnight in the ancient town if you want to go to Shaxi for sightseeing. Old Theatre Inn is the most characteristic accommodation in the town. It has excellent pastoral scenery.
The inn was originally a small courtyard built around the ancient stage, but now it has become a boutique hotel which is highly popular among foreign tourists.
The Temple Fair for Prince Sakyamuni is a traditional folk activity in the ancient town of Shaxi. A grand folk religious activity is held there on the 8th day of the second Chinese lunar month (probably at the beginning of March in the solar calendar) every year, commonly known as the "Temple Fair for Prince Sakyamuni".
During that time, men and women, old and young, wear colorful clothes and festival accessories. They gather in the Xingjiao Temple from everywhere, and then carry the statues of Sakyamuni and Mother Buddha for parades.
The gong and drum team, Buddhism team, Taoism team and Dongjing music team take turns to perform. Coupled with the performances on the ancient stage, Sideng Street is bustling all through the night with dancing, music and bright lights.
Shaxi Ancient Town is located between Dali and Lijiang, so tourists will go there from Dali or Lijiang. Half a day is enough for you to visit the town. Generally tourists will also go to Shibao Mountain (half an hour by car from Shaxi) and stay overnight